Foundation brings the gift of education to children orphaned by war
WHEN A SOLDIER loses his life in action, his unit doesn’t just lose another person from the ranks. Families also lose a father, siblings lose a brother, a person loses a friend. The hurt of this death doesn’t end once the guns have been fired — it goes on in the hearts of the people a soldier leaves behind.
Aside from the pain, the families of these soldiers are also left to contend with the uncertainty of a future without a breadwinner. More often than not, these brave men have left behind young wives and children who are barely out of school.
This void left behind by these fallen heroes is being addressed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines through its Educational Benefit System Office (AFP-EBSO), by helping orphans find a way to finish their education.
For years, the AFP-EBSO has sent thousands of kids left behind by the casualties of war to school, getting help from the government and private individuals. Aside from this department, a number of private groups have also taken the mantle to lend orphaned families some much-needed assistance. One of these is HERO Foundation Inc., a non-stock, not-for-profit NGO that ‘Help, Educate, and Rear Orphans’ of soldiers who have died in the line of duty.
Although HERO Foundation is managed by a corporation of some of the country’s most influential families in the business industry, it was actually organized and initiated by the late President Corazon C. Aquino in 1988 as a way to have a more streamlined and organized way of helping orphaned military families.
“The NGO was started by the late President Cory Aquino. Same as the procedure of President Duterte wherein he visits the home of soldiers who have met an unfortunate incident, and whose family is given some cash, it was recommended to the late President that they create a better way to help. Then AFP Chief of Staff General Renato S. De Villa, who is now our Vice Chairman, called on the business community to respond to the growing needs of the families our heroes have left behind,” said Major General Victor Bayani (Ret.), Executive Director of HERO Foundation.
Through a special dinner hosted by Malacanang, heads of the country’s most prominent families such as the Ayalas, Concepcions, Sys, Tans, and the Yaps, among others, were called and presented with the opportunity to help.
Each family (15 of them), pledged P400,000 each as initial seed money which formed HERO Foundation. Through the group, the foundation helps out by providing annual stipend for the orphans.
“Each of the families have been very committed to this organization, and for the past 29 years, we were able to help 2,698 scholars in their schooling. Out of the total, 1,129 scholars have already graduated college. Today, the families, who have become board members, are now in their second to third generation of kin who are helping the foundation,” said Bayani.
The support covers much needed requirements such as school supplies, transportation, meals, and even a portion of their tuition fee. The foundation supports children of soldiers killed in action, those who died while performing disaster relief and rescue operations, and those who have been totally incapacitated due to combat action.
The HERO scholars range from elementary to college students, and those pursuing vocational courses. HERO works hand-in-hand with TESDA, by encouraging some of the scholars to consider a fully-paid vocational education. A HERO scholar is eligible to 16 years of support.
Aside from the financial assistance, the group also does annual outreach to ensure that every recipient is doing well in school and continues his schooling. During this time, they also conduct other activities that help in scholar management. This includes career mapping to help students determine what career they wish to pursue in the future, social graces for personality development, and financial literacy for the spouse.
“Our assistance doesn’t end with just giving the stipend to the family. As much as possible, we try to instill values that will eventually help them in life too,” Bayani added.
Fifteen-year old Lance Kelly Layug of Bulacan, lost his father Lawrence Layug who was ambushed by the NPA in Calauan, Quezon when he was still four years old. The ordeal proved to be very difficult to the young Lance because the shock caused his mother to lose the baby she was carrying at that time. His mom almost lost her life because she did not go straight to the hospital after the miscarriage.
“My mother almost died because she went straight to the morgue instead of the hospital. She’s lucky to be alive, and we have my grandparents to support us,” Lance said.
Family gatherings, specially those organized by his school, proved to be the most difficult, but for Lance, being a HERO scholar helped him growing up.
“People thought that we shouldn’t feel sorry for ourselves because we have groups like HERO Foundation to help us. But honestly if you ask us, we just really want our father back. HERO helped me overcome this ordeal. They became my second family. The foundation taught us that despite our misfortune, we should still be thankful that we have the privilege to study. There are so many other children who like us, needs help, but we’re lucky because we have the support of HERO Foundation. This encourages us to always do our best,” Lance said.
Connie Caberto, 21, and a 4th year Marketing Management student at the University of Makati, has been a HERO scholar since Grade 10. She became a scholar after her father, Charles Caberto, was placed under Complete Disability Discharge after being ambushed in Sulu. He was the only one who survived in his unit, but it left him incapable of doing normal tasks.
“HERO Foundation became our motivation to do well in school. We have to prove that they did not make a mistake in choosing us to become their scholars. But in so many ways, the foundation also helped us develop as capable individuals. We learned to become confident, be always positive and to find the motivation to always do better. We feel strong inside because despite of our circumstances, we are still very lucky. Now I only have less than a year before I finally finish school,” she said.
“HERO Foundation helped us beyond the stipend. We hope to give back to the foundation in the future,” said Lance.
Bridge to a Better Future
Aside from the financial assistance, HERO Foundation also helps their scholars get in touch with companies connected to the foundation.
“Some conduct their OJTs in these companies, and when they graduate and qualify, they actually get prioritized in hiring,” Bayani said. “There are also instances when we help some of them after graduation by helping them look for support during board reviews.”
This year, the foundation will be working with kids displaced by the Marawi conflict and will be launching their full scholarship program. “This coming school year, we will be picking 15 students who will get full scholarship from HERO Foundation. This will cover tuition fee, board and lodging, uniforms, books, school supplies and other miscellaneous fees. It will definitely change someone’s life.”
To donate and get in touch with HERO Foundation, visit www.herofoundation.com.ph.